Clumsy Shoe Shiners

A shoe shiner is polishing a customer's shoes.

Street scammers, pretending to be shoe shiners, use this method to approach and guilt-trap their victims by exploiting their kindness.

They usually wait for the right target in particularly crowded and busy pedestrian spaces and sidewalks.

1) How it works

While you are walking, a shoeshiner right ahead may “accidentally” drop a brush directly in front of your feet.

Scammers’ hope is that you will pick it up and return the tool to them.

At this point, they will fervently insist on shining your shoes as a gesture of gratitude. They won’t make any allusions about prices or payments, trying to make you believe that the service is for free.

Two brushes, some shoe grease and a leather brush
Shoeshiner's Tools. (Credit - JamesDeMers via Pixabay)

2) What you risk

Not only their service will not be for free but, once finished, they will also start demanding ridiculously high sums for that work.

As always, scammers will use their entire arsenal to convince you to pay. From pity, to guilt, to intimidation and harassment.
In some countries, they can even count on the support of fake or even real police officers.

3) How to avoid it

In these scenarios, especially in certain countries, do not collect other people’s belongings from the ground. You may even be accused of theft by scammers and “fortuitous witnesses” their accomplices.

If you want to help, simply get the attention of the shoeshiner and point to the object on the ground, then say a big “ciao” and leave.

Do not lighly accept services or objects before having agreed in advance the eventual price with the interlocutor.

Even better, do not accept seemingly free services or products from random people (Our post about Friendly Faces explains why). An adult version of “never accept candies from strangers”.

Check out the Random Encounters category from our Scam Archives to read about more street scammers and their routines.

4) Extras And Thoughts

Scammers described in this article are mostly wanderers, which means they have no fixed locations. Most are not even real shoe shiners, just hustlers who go around with buckets filled with brushes and polish for their scam routines.

However, even in the case of more itinerant shoe shiners or with cheap equipment, it is not certain that they are scammers. Leave prejudices aside and instead pay attention to recognize the mechanics of this scam routine.

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